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US general urges Iran to refrain from 'nefarious activities'

Iran: Temporary deal limiting IAEA access to sites is ‘significant achievement’

Tehran says under agreement, inspectors stay in nuclear sites; some cameras will run at suspicious non-nuclear sites, but IAEA won’t get footage until sanctions rolled back

Iran' Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi (R), in Tehran on February 21, 2021 (AFP)
Iran' Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) meets with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi (R), in Tehran on February 21, 2021 (AFP)

Iran on Monday hailed as a “significant achievement” the outcome of a visit by the head of the UN nuclear watchdog and a temporary agreement the sides reached on site inspections.

That deal effectively bought time as the United States, European powers and Tehran try to salvage the 2015 nuclear agreement, which has been on the brink of collapse since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it.

Tehran now demands that Washington scrap punishing sanctions Trump reimposed in 2018, while US President Joe Biden’s administration demands that Iran first return to all its nuclear commitments.

In the standoff, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament has ordered the government to start limiting some inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from Tuesday.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi held last-ditch talks in Tehran on Sunday where the two sides hammered out a temporary technical deal.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi addresses media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport on February 21, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

They confirmed that Iran will continue to allow access to UN inspectors to its nuclear sites — but will for three months bar inspections of other, non-nuclear sites.

Grossi said afterwards that a “temporary solution” had been reached with Tehran.

“There is less access, let’s face it. But still, we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work,” he said.

Grossi did not give details of precisely which activities the IAEA would no longer be able to engage in, but confirmed that the number of inspectors in Iran would not be reduced and that snap inspection could continue under the temporary arrangement.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Monday the talks had “resulted in a very significant diplomatic achievement and a very significant technical achievement.”

Khatibzadeh stressed that the outcome was “within the framework of the parliament’s binding law.”

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saied Khatibzadeh gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 22, 2021 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iran will temporarily suspend so-called “voluntary transparency measures” — notably inspections of non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity.

Tehran will for “three months record and keep the information of some activities and monitoring equipment” at such sites, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said.

This means that cameras will keep running at those sites, “but no footage will be given to the IAEA,” Khatibzadeh said.

If the US sanctions are not lifted within three months, the footage will be deleted, Iran’s atomic body has said.

Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017. The agency also said then that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”

Uranium particles found

According to a report Friday, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors last summer found uranium particles at two Iranian nuclear sites that Iran tried to block access to.

Iranian authorities had stonewalled the inspectors from reaching the sites for seven months before the inspection, and Iranian officials have failed to explain the presence of the uranium, the Reuters news agency reported, citing diplomats familiar with the UN agency’s work.

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

The inspections took place in August and September of 2020, the report said. The IAEA keeps its findings secret and only shared the details of the find with a few countries.

The Wall Street Journal reported the suspicious findings earlier this month, without identifying the material.

The Reuters report did not identify the sites. Earlier reports said one of the sites was in Abadeh, south of Isfahan — a location that in September 2019 was flagged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the site of an alleged secret nuclear facility. Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons; Netanyahu is adamant that the regime is fooling the world, and has said that a trove of nuclear documents concerning its rogue program, smuggled out of Tehran by the Mossad two years, proves Iran’s duplicity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealing what he says is a nuclear weapons development site in Abadeh, Iran, at the Prime Ministers Office, on September 9, 2019. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Already, Iran has walked away from the nuclear deal’s limitations on its stockpile of uranium and has begun enriching up 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

It is also spinning advanced centrifuges barred by the deal which saw Iran limit its program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Refraining from ‘nefarious activities’

Meanwhile, the head of the US forces in the Middle East said that Iran must refrain from any provocation as Washington steps up efforts to salvage the deal.

“I would think this would be a good time for everybody to behave soberly and cautiously, and see what happens,” General Kenneth McKenzie said in an interview Sunday during a visit to Oman, from where he flew close to neighboring Iran in a helicopter. “I do believe we will be prepared for any eventuality, however.”

The commander of US Central Command, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., briefs reporters on the status of operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, at the Pentagon, Washington, March 13, 2020. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

The four-star general, head of the US Army Central Command (CENTCOM) which covers the region, urged Iran not to undertake any “nefarious activities” in a bid to rebuild trust.

“I think they would want to be recognized as a responsible member of the family of nations and a stable member in the region,” McKenzie said.

The US accuses Iran of destabilizing the region through financial and military support for Shiite terror groups, especially in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Washington also accuses Iran’s Revolutionary Guards of disrupting maritime traffic in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint through which a fifth of world oil output passes.

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